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Pop Filter Hot Pick: VIA Music & New Media Festival

Been seeing the three letters "VIA" lighting up cyberspace but not sure who's behind it? Still catching slack from your friends about missing last year's 3-day happening at the sprawling Lawrenceville-based sound studio? Well, for the next five days you've got even more chances and good reasons to catch Pittsburgh's first-of-its-kind new music and media festival, as VIA kicks off its second anniversary with an expanded presence around town.

The city's newest contemporary culture powerhouse, the festival was launched in 2010 to create new synergies between electronic music, visual art, game design, and live music visualization--all "via" an impressive itinerary of performances, workshops, satellite events, monthly showcases, and yes, plenty of after-parties.

For the next 120 hours--not to mention a signature wrap-up bash on Oct. 16--artists from all corners of the globe, including Italy, Mexico, Canada, and the UK, will converge on the Burgh for an ambitious homegrown audio-visual event that has already secured the city's spot within the international festival circuit.

So what's new for VIA's second birthday?

The festival has set up shop pop-up style along East Liberty's Broad St., transforming an entire city block into an open multimedia venue. Centrally located and easily accessible by foot, public transport or bike, 6620 Broad St. serves as VIA's HQ on Oct. 7 and 8. Transforming the area's recently renovated properties into an arts destination and nightlife district, the hub features an outdoor stage, wide sidewalks, food vendors, storefront programming, and plenty of parking. By showcasing cutting-edge artists in this way, VIA is also highlighting the corridor's prime potential for reuse and real estate redevelopment.

"This year, we're able to showcase a space a lot of people don't even know is here. Broad Street is so easy to get to. It's right on the busway, BikePgh has provided 100 racks, and you can get here from anywhere. Everyone is really excited to have people come see East Liberty. That's been very rewarding for us," says VIA co-director, Lauren Goshinski. "Bringing people here at this time is really important, because small businesses will start popping up faster when people can walk these back streets and see what's available. I think it's going to help with having a healthy balance of businesses and a renewed vision for East Liberty. This is an important subtext to VIA this year."

VIA's number of community partners and sponsors has doubled, which means even more programming offered at both traditional and temporary venues spanning five Burgh nabes: the South Side, Oakland, Bloomfield-Garfield, Lawrenceville, and East Liberty. Free hands-on workshops exploring sound, art and technology are being conducted for all ages at Assemble and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and then repeated for concert-goers at the main site.

Of the lineup, 40% of participating artists either currently live, or have lived, in Pittsburgh, underscoring VIA’s goal to nurture the city as a nexus for cutting-edge collaborations between music, art and technology. VIA's something-for-everybody roster features a diverse spectrum of sounds, from noise, garage and new wave, to hip-hop, techno and progressive electronic. Emerging figures are paired with established artists, including Blondes, Ford & Lopatin, Battles, Zombi, Wolf Eyes, Laurel Halo, Pink Skull, and Protect-U.

Underscoring its progressive interdisciplinary mission, VIA also features visual artists--some recent CMU graduates who have achieved international recognition such as Spencer Longo and Jacob Ciocci--with expertise in film and video, animation, open source software development, and game design. These artists will perform live alongside musicians to present interactive screenings, installations and workshops that heighten the festival's visceral aspects.

Riffing on the fact that Pittsburgh's legacy is steeped in strong ties between art and innovation, VIA aims to be much more than just a festival, but rather is redefining the format as a living laboratory for the ongoing production, presentation and experience of new music and media, all situated within, and informed by, the city's authentic neighborhoods, audiences and topography.

Adds Goshinski: "We're tapping an international scene from a local portal and doing it in a way that makes sense in our city. We've cherry-picked all the best of what's current in Pittsburgh, and are putting Pittsburgh on the map for pioneering festivals. We want to bring all different types of people together in Pittsburgh for one weekend. We'll keep building and integrating. We're not a fixed entity. We're going to keep living in the future."

If it all makes your head spin, here are five things you don't want to miss:
1. Weds., Oct. 5, Brillobox. Party like it's 1999. Reflecting its balance of hindsight and forward-thinking, VIA kicks off by highlighting a "game-changing" album that signaled a shift in alternative music 12 years ago. Three-piece band Trans Am--credited with ushering in a wave of "post-rock" during the mid-1990s--will perform their classic 1999 album, Futureworld, in its entirety. While modern music pioneer Brian Wilson has revived his 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds for live touring, VIA puts a new twist on the act of revisiting a classic concept album by showcasing an influential band that has helped shaped the indie music scene of the past decade. Trans Am's signature minimalist sound, which blends krautrock, metal, punk, synthpop, and electronics, came to fruition with Futureworld, when the band introduced lyrics using a vocoder. The show coincides with the reissue of the LP on Thrill Jockey, stalwarts of the Chicago indie sound. Sold out.

2. Thurs., Oct. 6, Carnegie Mellon. Take a break from the thumping and glare of the dark nightlife scene, put down your drink, and spend an evening learning about the role of the synthesizer in 20th-century music. Bridging the gap between the club scene, home-based music studios and academia, this rare event features a performance and lecture led by seminal minimalist composer David Borden, who in 1969 co-founded the world’s first synthesizer ensemble, Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. Founder of Cornell University's Digital Music Dept., Borden will present, “The Moog Synthesizer Lecture: The Man I Knew and the Machine I Learned," followed by the world premier of FRKWYS 7 Ensemble. During the intimate performance, Borden will perform alongside rising stars in the electronic music scene, including James Ferraro (who rarely performs live and single-handedly ushered in a new genre of music that the U.K.'s Wire magazine has dubbed hypnogagic pop), Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never, Ford & Lopatin), Laurel Halo, and Samuel Godin.

3. Thurs., Oct. 6, Rex Theater. In conjunction with all of the live music, VIA provides festival-goers with plenty of eye candy. Don't miss the U.S. premiere of Partitura (score), created by acclaimed Italian visualists/programmers, Abstract Birds/Quayola, in collaboration with Four Tet (aka DJ/producer Kieran Hebden). Custom software that generates realtime graphics and seeks to create a new system for translating sound into visual forms, the piece is inspired by modern artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee with its endless ever-evolving abstract landscapes that respond to musical structures, audio analysis and manual gestural inputs. Much as the mind-expanding shows sought to do in SF, NYC and the UK during the 1960s, Partitura manipulates tools and technologies of the day to craft a new experience of sound, light, movement, and color. Check out special ticket deals!

4. Sat., Oct., 8, @ Broad St. VIA's booking of the militantly political Detroit-based collective, Underground Resistance, could not be more timely, as Occupy Wall Street protests are fanning out from NYC across the US. Founded in the early 1990s by Detroit trio Mike Banks, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills, UR has married the gritty spirit of that city's early influential techno scene with a fiercely DIY aesthetic and a dedication to facing complex social, political and economic issues through their approach to sound.

5. Sat., Oct., 8, Broad St. Walk or bike to VIA's HQ and take the time to explore the entirety of the East Liberty block. Wander in and out of VIA’s multiple spaces during the day-long celebration of music, visual art and installations. Check out CMU’s CODELab “Crank Orchestra” installation, roving satellite performances such as Aaron Nemec’s mobile “BASS Rally," and videos culled from the archives of the Carnegie Museum of Art and The Warhol. Immerse yourself in the intersection of the urban streetscape and contemporary culture. You'll come away convinced that live music is alive and well, and onto something big, here in Pittsburgh.

Check out VIA's rough guide, map and full program.
Purchase tickets now.

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